Oregon has a workforce housing problem. Too many of the men and women who work in our stores, schools and elsewhere are seeing rents and home prices rise more quickly than wages. That, in turn, leaves some politicians calling for rent control — currently banned in Oregon — and other policies aimed at keeping folks in housing they can afford. You can bet the 2019 Legislature will take up several proposals.
Yet there are problems.
There’s talk of limiting landlords’ ability to run criminal background checks on would-be tenants, capping the size of security deposits and ending no-fault evictions. Each of these has real downsides, however.
The ability to run background checks arguably makes rental units safer. Security fees, which, along with rent, cannot be raised within the first year, are not capped in Oregon, though that could change. There’s also continuing pressure to end the practice of no-fault evictions, a move that would make it somewhat harder to remove a bad tenant but also make it harder for that tenant to find future housing.
So what’s a state to do?
Lawmakers must take a good, hard look at what economists say about rent control. Though it may help some people some of the time, they say, in the long run controls not only reduce the number of rental units available but take a toll on surrounding neighborhoods. Those finding were reiterated recently in an article published on the Brookings Institution website.
It’s also time lawmakers studied land use laws that make it difficult and expensive, at best, to expand city boundaries. Where land supply is limited, prices for everything from office space to apartments to owner-occupied homes go up. Surely the Legislature could find ways to increase land supply without creating urban sprawl from Portland to Pendleton or Bend to Burns.
No one thing caused Oregon’s current housing problems, and no one cure will turn the situation around. But paying attention to research and re-examining our current laws could put the state on track to much-needed change.